The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education voted unanimously to reduce the role of District Advisory Committees (DACs) two weeks ago.
Apparently, her colleagues agreed with Board member Kathy Wisnicki that the DACs participation in the planning process was, in her words, “causing confusion among committee members as to their role.”
Henceforth, the board decreed, the DACs will not take part “in the overall planning of the educational programs and of budget resources…[but will] advise the Board on school problems, needs and issues from a balanced, logical, and analytic perspective, as the need arises. It is not the intention that advisory committees become policy-making bodies or that they manage or direct staff.”
The DAC members we know are not “confused” about their roles, or anything else, but are increasingly disturbed by the board and staff’s erratic behavior. In the most striking example, the school board and staff asked the Special Education DAC to spearhead the development with parents and staff members of a Special Ed. Strategic Plan. The group’s plan was adopted by the Board in mid-2004, but was not enacted. More than a year later, the staff dismissed it as a “framework,” and, to date, the District still lacks a workable program for the education of 14 percent of its students.
Now, just as the staff devalued the vital and valuable work done by the Special Ed working group, the Board has demoted DAC members from advisors to observers.
In demanding “a balanced, logical, and analytic perspective” from DAC members, the Board suggested that, to this point, they have been unbalanced, illogical and irrational. The suggestion is as insulting as it is wrong-headed.
It is clear to everyone, except perhaps the Board and the District staff themselves, that they need all the help they can get, and Santa Monica’s richest resource is its residents. Among them are world class experts in virtually every field – the arts, architecture, science, technology, languages, business, the law, media, medicine and sports, as well as education. And, over the years, untold numbers of them have served with devotion and distinction, and without fanfare, on the DACs, and made incalculably valuable contributions to the District and its schools. Indeed, given the DACs’ record – past and current it is entirely possible that the Board marginalized them because they were not only actually doing something of value, but expected more from the board and staff than they were willing or able to give.
That’s an ugly notion, but no uglier than the Board’s decision to bench the DACs.